The BBC recently reported that vinyl sales had reached a 25 year high, while CD and download sales head south. That's hardly news, but if you care enough about music to be reading this, it might be a good time to consider buying something like the Pro-Ject Elemental.
Even before I heard it, I had a good feeling about this turntable. It has a substantial stone base, a nicely finished medium-density fiberboard platter, an aluminum tonearm and an Ortofon moving-magnet cartridge. The Elemental has a fully manual belt-drive design that's all about maximizing sound quality. It's available in three finishes -- red-black, white-black, or silver-black - for $229 on Amazon, with free shipping for Prime customers.
The turntable plays at two speeds, 33.3 RPM for LPs and 45 RPM for singles, but to change speeds you have to manually move the drive belt on the pulley, which takes just a few seconds. So far so good, but the placement of the power switch on the base just below the motor pulley is unfortunate. I knocked the belt off the pulley or platter more than once when I was changing records, and it takes a few seconds to get it back on.
It's pretty dry in my apartment this winter, and sometimes when I changed LPs the platter's felt mat clung to the LP, which meant I'd have to peel them apart. The maneuver only took a second or two, it was a minor nuisance. If I owned an Elemental I'd buy an aftermarket mat that would stay put on the platter when changing LPs.
The rest of the review system consisted of a $129 Schiit Mani phono preamplifier, an NAD C 316BEE stereo integrated amplifier at $379 and a pair of Magnepan .7 flat panel speakers, which cost $1,400 per pair. If you play CDs, consider picking up the matching NAD C 516BEE CD player for $300. The speakers might seem too expensive at first, but the system was very well balanced. Alternatively, you could get the smaller Magnepan MMG panel speakers ($599 per pair) instead of the .7s.
Inexpensive turntables can sound bass shy, but not this one. Rocksteady reggae band The Frightnrs' stellar debut LP sounded more than ample down below. African Head Charge's brilliant dub, post-punk, industrial infused "My Life in a Hole in the Ground" LP was even better endowed in the bass department. I know the .7 speakers well, but the C 316BEE and Elemental turntable combination surprised me, the energy levels were so much higher than I expect of an entry-level audiophile system. The Ortofon cartridge sounds fine, though just a little bright for my taste. Try it and you might like its lively sound, if not you can upgrade to a better cartridge down the road.
When I played an LP of Bernard Herrmann's orchestral score for Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" the churning strings and low basses had plenty of tension and drama, the music stands on its own without being accompanied by the film.
Musical epiphanies with CDs came often, the system's sound was remarkably big and spacious, with very clear midrange and treble. Bass definition was well above par.
I love Magnepan speakers for their highly transparent sound and wide and deep soundstage, but they probably won't cut it for fans of hard rock or dance music, feel free to substitute a pair of Klipsch R-28F towers at $898 per pair. They'll blow you away with the NAD C 316BEE amp.
More money will buy better sounding turntables like Pro-Ject's Debut Carbon ($399) and Rega's Planar 2 ($675), but the Elemental is a good starter turntable for the money simply because it gets the important things right. With it playing records is fun, and the analog-ness of the sound was evident from the get-go.
I reviewed the Pro-Ject Elemental, but if you would prefer a turntable with USB output get the Elemental USB ($279) that also includes a built-in phono preamp.